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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Turns Chat-Show Host on Internet




President Boris Yeltsin is not Irish, and he hates it when people smoke around him.


These were among the tidbits of information that Internet surfers learned Tuesday during a half-hour live chat with the Russian president carried by the U.S.-based online news service MSNBC.


The questions -- and there were thousands of them for Yeltsin to choose from -- ranged from land reform and nuclear proliferation to why Yeltsin has such a "fine head of hair."


For Elizabeth Bell Caroll from Ireland, the president's silvery locks seemed a sure sign that he had at least a wee bit of Irish blood.


Squashing any thought that he was anything but a full-blooded Russian, Yeltsin rambled on about the virtual impossibility of him having Irish ancestors: He said he was unsure whether the Irish ever reached his native Ural Mountains, "but I know for sure that people from the Urals never reached as far as Ireland."


Yeltsin gave all credit for his healthy hair to his wife and daughters. "It is just that the women in my family look after me so well," he said, according to a transcript provided by the Federal News Service.


And that is what he would like them to keep on doing. Asked whether he wants his younger daughter Tatyana Dyachenko to succeed him, Yeltsin said Russian society is not ready for a woman as president.


Dyachenko has the official job of her father's image-maker and is believed to play an influential behind-the-scenes role in Kremlin affairs, but she has expressed no political ambitions.


A questioner identified as Mr. Chou from the United States wondered whether it would be impolite to ask the 67-year-old president about the state of his health. Yeltsin said, "They ask me this question here almost every day, and I always try to find a way to prove that I am in good health."


He then challenged the questioner to a competition. "Let's have a sports contest or try to find some other way to prove to each other who is in better health," Yeltsin said.


The president told a Dutchman that he has never smoked and doesn't like it when others light up near him. "I hate tobacco in general and think that it is very bad for society," Yeltsin was quoted by FNS as saying.


It was not immediately clear how many people worldwide dropped in on Yeltsin, who fielded questions through an interpreter and relied on another aide to type his replies on a desktop computer.


Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said the administration had received tens of thousands of questions. Yeltsin answered 13 of them.


A man from Venezuela, who identified himself as Michael, wanted to know what Yeltsin thought of his old political nemesis, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.


"I [once] thought poorly of him. But today I don't think about him at all," Yeltsin said.


A U.S. family asked if Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton were friends. The Kremlin chief said he was friends with the leaders of many countries, but that perhaps he had been friends with Clinton the longest.


Yeltsin finished the session by saying that half of the questions he had answered off the cuff, as they streamed into the Kremlin online.


"I liked communicating through the Internet," he said, suggesting a repeat of the "simultaneous play" in two or three months' time.


The Internet has brought mixed results for the Russian government. The Kremlin administration's web site has registered a meager 35 visitors during the past two months, while Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has seen a whopping 65,000 hits since his personal pages went global March 16.


Less popular are recently launched web sites from the Russian Defense Ministry and the Communist Party.